I’m going to start off by telling you a story about Robert. When Robert was younger he almost always bounced out of bed as soon as the sun rose. But by the time he turned 8 or 9 years old, you needed a crane to lift him out of bed. Now, in his first year of high school, he sits zombie-like in class and tries hard to keep his eyes open. If he had the option to take a nap in class…he would! Around 4pm, just before training begins, he feels a surge of energy that lasts until 7. The energy often spikes back around 10 pm. His parents give him repeated reminders to go to bed, and they are ignored. The nightly bedtime battle is lost because he is wide awake on social media with his friends until midnight. He doesn’t remember how flat out exhausted he was earlier in the day. When the weekend comes, he takes the opportunity to sleep until noon to catch up for sleep lost during the week. Does this sound familiar at all?
Perhaps Melissa may sound more familiar. Melissa constantly insists that she is not tired when her bedtime comes. She rather fight sleep than go to sleep. As a result she is often overactive, irritable and argumentative. Her behavior transfers into the classroom. She is constantly fidgeting in class, and is easily distracted. It has even caused one of her teachers to suggest that she may have ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
If Robert or Melissa sounds like a child you know, you are not alone. Children, like adults, often vary in the amount of sleep they need, how quickly they fall asleep, and how long it takes for them to fall asleep if they are awakened in the night time.
So how much sleep do children need? In general, school aged children need in the area of nine to twelve hours of sleep per night. If your child wakes up easily in the morning, if they are wide awake, energetic, and alert throughout the school day and if they can fall asleep within a period of fifteen minutes to a half an hour, chances are they are getting enough sleep.
To the contrary, if it is difficult to wake up your child, they are constantly groggy and tired during the day, and they often have mood changes or lack in energy, chances are they are not getting enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can affect physical and emotional health, memory, concentration, overall performance in school, and other activities including sports, music, playtime etc.
It is important to note that it is quite common for a sleep deprived child or adolescent not to realize that they are lacking in sleep. They may feel that their grogginess, lack of concentration, irritability and other related physiological and emotional reactions are just the way they are, and not as a result of a lack of sleep. They may not know what it really feels like to be rested.
So as a parent or caregiver that has a child who is having difficulty sleeping, what can you do? It is a good idea to stick to the same bedtime and bedtime routine every night. Although there is nothing wrong with an occasional change in routine, sticking as closely to a consistent bedtime routine as possible is beneficial to young children.
Some children may have difficulty sleeping due to stress. Some children bring a lot of worries to bed. These worries may include problems at school with friends, test anxiety, illness or stress in the family, and even fears about what they have seen or heard on the nightly news. If you feel your child is stressed, you may find that they have difficulty sleeping. Encourage your son or daughter to talk to you about any concerns or worries to help create a more restful night.
Many children watch t.v. or play videogames right up until they go to bed. It’s a good idea to have a ‘screen time’ cut off time at least half an hour before bed. This helps to make the time in which your child prepares to sleep - calm and relaxing. Entertainment is an additional stimulation that is not needed prior to going to bed.
If you are trying to establish a bedtime routine with your toddler or young child, here is an example of one that you may want to try.
- Turn off the television and cease any screen entertainment activities at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Make a trip to the bathroom to wash up, use the bathroom and brush teeth. Some children sleep well after having a warm bath.
- Change into comfortable pajamas for sleeping.
- Take the time to read a bedtime story to your child.
- If they are not yet ready for bed, give them the option of looking through a book independently until they are. Some children like listening to soft music or an audio book before bed.
- Give them a final reminder to stay quiet and in bed.
- Last but not least, say goodnight.
Thank you for tuning in/ reading this week's episode!